June 2010 Archives

June 24, 2010

PA ARD Program: A Better Option Than a DUI Conviction on Your Record

Most people who come to me facing DUI charges are good people who have experienced a lapse of judgment. People that did not think their one extra drink at the baseball game or their friends Bar-B-Que would result in their arrest and them facing DUI charges. For those people the Pennsylvania Legislature allows an alternative to being convicted and sentenced in for of the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program or ARD.

The ARD program allows first time offenders to serve probation, community service and fines which, if successfully completed results in the dismissal of the charges against them. Obviously this is an enormous benefit to clients who are concerned about keeping their jobs or looking for a job in the future.

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June 21, 2010

Field Sobriety Testing in Pennsylvania: Refuse, Refuse, Refuse

When a police officer suspects that a driver has been operating his or her vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, they will often ask them to perform a field sobriety test. My office consistently advises our clients to refuse to submit to such testing. However, more often then not, drivers will do as they are asked. Submission to such a test, especially if you have been drinking is likely to result in your arrest for DUI. In Pennsylvania, field sobriety tests are not mandated by law. You have no obligation to submit to them. They are used by the police to establish probable cause in order to arrest you for DUI and WILL be used against you at trial to justify your arrest.

Field sobriety tests are designed so that a police officer will be able to pick out certain physical characteristics of intoxication. Officers will employ such tests as the standing on one leg test where police instruct the suspect to stand on one leg, with the other foot suspended about 6 inches off the ground and count aloud. The officer will then time the suspect for thirty seconds. The officer is looking for indicators of impairment such as swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, not counting in order and putting the suspended foot down. Attempting to perform this test sober is difficult for many people and if you have been drinking will be nearly impossible.

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June 17, 2010

Implied Consent Law for DUI in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's implied consent law is a civil penalty applied by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that requires all motorists to submit to a chemical test of your breath, blood or urine if you are arrested for DUI. It is the duty of the police officer to provide you a simple warning that your operating privilege will be suspended upon refusal to submit to chemical testing.

Chemical testing can come in the form of a breath test, urine sample or through blood testing. Refusal to submit to these tests after you have been arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania can be punished by a one-year driver's license and up to three days in prison. For this reason my office recommends to clients that they do no refuse to submit to these tests.

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June 15, 2010

PA DUI: Impairment Starts with the Prescription Drug

Anyone who is familiar with recent advertising campaigns against drunk driving has heard the phrase, "impairment begins with the first drink." However, impairment doesn't necessarily have to involve the consumption of alcohol. Section 3802 (d)(2) of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code deals specifically with individuals who are under the influence of a controlled substance. It states, "Individuals may not operate a vehicle if they are under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs that impairs their ability to safely drive."

Controlled substances can range from illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine to prescribed narcotic pain medication such as Codeine, Percocet and Vicodine. The side effects of these pain medications when taken at high dosage combined with operating a vehicle can some times result in DUI charges. A recent case originating in Delaware County resulted in a DUI conviction when the defendant operated a vehicle over three hours after taking prescription Valium and Percocet with codeine. The Court said evidence that the defendant was driving erratically, had constricted pupils, was unsteady on their feet after the traffic stop and had the appearance of confusion was enough to show that the drugs impaired his ability to safely operate his vehicle.

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June 13, 2010

Other Motorists May Be Doing the Police's Job in DUI Reports in Pennsylvania

One of the many reasons people who are charged with a DUI are pulled over in the first place is because of some sort of erratic driving. This can be the casual "roll through a stop sign" or crossing over a double yellow line a few times over the course of a mile. This sort of erratic driving is one of the principal indications that police look for when making a DUI traffic stop. This sort of driving however doesn't necessarily need to be witnessed by a police officer in order for you to be arrested for DUI. In Pennsylvania a fellow driver who identifies themselves to police may report the kind of erratic driving normally associated with those who are operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Their report to police will provide sufficient probable cause for the police to make a traffic stop which may then lead to a DUI.

In a recent case out of Butler County Pennsylvania, police officers received a 911 dispatch call advising them that a named motorist had observed a driver almost hit a wall of a bridge, run a stop sign and drive onto a sidewalk. Officers received the driver's registration number and location from the motorist, caught up to the driver and while they did not observe any bad driving still had a reasonable suspicion to pull the driver over. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the legality of the traffic stop, saying that the police acting on a tip from a named motorist was Constitutional.

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June 9, 2010

CDL Drivers Face Stiffer Penalties for DUI in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania DUI conviction often results in a PA license suspension. These suspensions may seriously affect your ability to get to and from your place of employment, however, if your employment involves driving regularly then the impact may be significantly more serious. Drivers who have their Commercial Drivers License or CDL face stiffer suspensions then those with regular licenses and a conviction can effectively end your driving career.

The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act that was implemented in 2005 by the Pennsylvania legislature has mandated more stringent penalties for CDL licensees who have been convicted of driving under the influence. Some of the most significant aspects of the legislation are the legal BAC level for CDL drivers and the length of their suspensions for one or more DUI convictions.

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June 7, 2010

Pennsylvania DUI: Small Differences in BAC Equal Big Differences in Sentencing

As a DUI attorney my main goal is to be sure that my clients serve the absolute minimum sentence possible. Because of the tiered structure for DUI penalties in Pennsylvania, the sentences are based on the driver's BAC and the number of their prior offenses. It is important to have a skilled Pennsylvania DUI lawyer to make sure that you do not recieve a higher penalty than necessary.

A perfect illustration of the importance of having a skilled attorney is the difference between a "General Impairment" (BAC .08 to .099%) tier sentence and "High BAC" (BAC .10 to .159%) tier sentence. First time offenders in Pennsylvania with a BAC of .099% face 6 months of probation, a $300 fine and alcohol highway safety classes. This is compared to a BAC just .001% higher who face a 12-month license suspension, 48 hours to 6 months in jail and a maximum of a $5,000 fine. For defendants who have had one or more prior DUI's the difference between tiers becomes even more dramatic.

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June 4, 2010

Alternatives to Pennsylvania DUI related License Suspension

The biggest concern for my clients facing a DUI charge is when and for how long will they lose their license. Unfortunately the license suspension is a civil penalty dictated by Penn-Dot therefore it cannot be negotiated as part of the sentence. The length of a DUI related suspension is determined by which tier the offenders BAC falls into. However, as a former DUI Prosecutor I know there are ways to minimize my clients' suspensions.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation allows first time offenders who receive a one-year license suspension the ability to apply for an Occupational Limited License (OLL). This allows offenders to retain their ability to commute to and from work after serving a minimum 60-day suspension.

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June 2, 2010

Social Networking Sites Create Serious Problems for DUI Defendants in Pennsylvania

As a former Prosecutor I have first hand experience that the easiest defendants to prosecute are the ones that talk to police and provide a confession. As a criminal defense attorney my job is to make sure that my clients reveal no information to the police and the prosecution to avoid incriminating themselves for trial. However, with the increasing popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, this job has been made significantly more difficult. I have seen many cases in the media and in courthouses around the Philly metro area where facebook and myspace posts have led to arrests and convictions.

Recent criminal proceedings in and around Philadelphia serve as an example of how social networking can affect even DUI defenses. Joseph Genovese Jr. recently received national attention after he ran over two St. Louis Cardinals fans outside of Citizen's Bank Ball Park in Philadelphia, killing one and seriously injuring another.

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